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Newhouse-Led Ag Labor Bill Passes House, Enhances Border Security

March 18, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1603, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Rep. Newhouse (R-WA) introduced the legislation alongside Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to ensure a legal and reliable workforce for American agriculture.

Click here to watch Rep. Newhouse’s floor speech in support of H.R. 1603.

“In the first two and a half months of 2021, illegal immigration has reached a crisis point. In order to maintain the rule of law and keep criminals out of our country, Congress must continue working to enhance our border security. One way to enhance our border security is the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which is the bipartisan, targeted labor solution our agriculture industry needs. By creating a viable and desperately-needed agriculture labor program, we are removing opportunities to work illegally in the United States, strengthening our border security, and ensuring we have a reliable, legal workforce for our farms and ranches for years to come,” said Rep. Newhouse. “Today’s passage marks an important step forward for farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get it to the President’s desk, and deliver historic and meaningful reforms for American agriculture.”

“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But many of them do so while living and working in a state of uncertainty and fear, which has only been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren. “Stabilizing the workforce will protect the future of our farms and our food supply. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act accomplishes this by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers and updating and streamlining the H-2A temporary worker visa program while ensuring fair wages and working conditions for all workers. I look forward to working with Senators on both sides of the aisle to get this bipartisan legislation that serves the best interests of our country to the President’s desk.”

The bill gained the support of over 250 agriculture groups, Americans for Prosperity, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the National Association of Counties, and several Washington agriculture associations.

Passage in the House was spearheaded by Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, including Republican Reps. Mike Simpson (R-ID), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), and David Valadao (R-CA).

“Passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is welcome news in agricultural districts like mine,” said Congressman Mike Simpson.  “Workforce uncertainty in eastern Idaho hurts both producers and consumers alike, and this bill sets us on the right path towards ending the workforce crisis, stabilizing rural economies, and discouraging illegal border crossings.  Simply put, this bill is good for agriculture, good for Idaho, and good for our country, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to get it signed into law.”

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a piece of legislation that my colleagues and I spent almost a year negotiating and working on,” said Rep. Diaz-Balart. “This bill modernizes our antiquated H2A visa system that America’s farmers and growers have long suffered from and provides stability and permanence to agricultural workers, all while strengthening our national security, bolstering our economy, and adhering to the rule of law. Today, we took a significant and necessary step once again toward finally solving the labor crisis facing our nation’s agriculture industry. As I have always stated, it is absolutely critical that we continue to grow and produce our food here in our own backyard. Once we hand that power to another country, we not only risk our national security but also destroy millions of American jobs. I am proud to be one of the main negotiators of this crucial legislation, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to work with us, so this bill can finally be signed into law."

“As the son of immigrants and lifelong dairy farmer, I know firsthand how desperately our agriculture workforce needs meaningful reform,” said Rep. Valadao. “Many industries in the Central Valley rely heavily on immigrant labor. Our farm workers are absolutely critical to our collective mission of reliably feeding America, yet many live in fear due to an inability to gain legal status through our broken immigration system. Ensuring that our essential farm workers already in the states receive legal status, while also simplifying and streamlining the process for future flow of workers, is just common sense, and I am proud to be an original cosponsor on this very important legislation. I urge my colleagues in the senate to pass this bipartisan legislation and send it to the president’s desk to become law.”

The bill now heads to the Senate where there is interest on both sides of the aisle to perfect the legislation and send it to the President’s desk for signature.

Background:

Farmers and ranchers across the United States are in desperate need of a high-quality, reliable workforce, and the current H-2A guestworker program is in need of meaningful, bipartisan reform.  The Farm Workforce Modernization Act creates a workforce solution for America’s agriculture industry by providing stability, predictability, and fairness to one of the most critical sectors of our nation’s economy.

The bill will:

  • Establish a program for agricultural workers in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy.
  • Reform the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers. The bill focuses on modifications to make the program more responsive and user-friendly for employers and provides access to the program for industries with year-round labor needs.
  • Establish mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment with a structured phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system.  

In the 116th Congress, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act became the first agriculture labor reform effort to pass the House since 1986.

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